- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 5, 2016

LOGAN, W.Va. (AP) - In wide-ranging testimony before a U.S. Senate panel Wednesday, speakers in southern West Virginia either lamented or looked for new opportunity in the Clean Power Plan’s impacts on the hard-hit, coal-producing region.

The Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee heard blowback in Logan over the climate-change inspired regulations from a teary-eyed unemployed coal miner, a coal union lawyer and a coalfields county commissioner. The GOP majority invited those speakers.

From speakers invited by the Democratic minority, lawmakers also heard about opportunities to prioritize and benefit from renewable energy from a West Virginia University law professor and a solar energy program director.

The three lawmakers who participated - Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, Sen. Joe Manchin and Rep. Evan Jenkins - are all from West Virginia. No other members attended.

Capito, the subcommittee chairwoman, said she believes the federal regulations that limit carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants to stem climate change are only part of what’s hurting coal. The regulations are temporarily stalled while they are being challenged in court, with West Virginia leading the way in the lawsuit.

“Is it all about the regulations? No, it’s not all about the regulations,” Capito said. “Is it all about natural gas? No, it’s not all about natural gas. Is it all about market forces? No, it’s not. Each one of those, I believe, plays individually a very strong part in what we see happening to the coal industry.”

Laid-off coal miner Jimmy Dale “Bo” Copley II cried while testifying how coal’s tailspin affected his family. He said his out-of-work coal miner peers are more focused on federal regulations than market forces hurting coal, including low-priced natural gas.

“We understand there’s an abundance of natural gas as well,” Copley said. “But coal can compete when it’s not regulated as much as it is.”

James Van Nostrand, a WVU College of Law professor and director of its Center for Energy and Sustainable Development, said that in the rhetorical “War on Coal” espoused by politicians, the main weapon has been economics through competition from cheap natural gas.

To draw a scale, Van Nostrand said that in the war analogy, economics and natural gas are akin to a huge aircraft carrier; thinning coal seams and geology are like a destroyer; climate change and worldwide reaction a submarine; and the Clean Power Plan is like a shoulder-fired rocket launcher.

In the meanwhile, Van Nostrand said, West Virginia officials have made moves away from prioritizing renewable energy. He pointed out that the GOP-led Legislature in 2015 repealed the state’s Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, a relatively lax requirement that counted certain coal-burning technologies as renewables.

“For the last several years, virtually everything that we have done in the state has been in the wrong direction from what it takes us to position ourselves well in this new energy economy,” Van Nostrand said.

Manchin said the focus should be on bringing tax credits for clean energy to coal regions that, for generations, have done the dirty work unearthing coal to produce the country’s power.

“You want us to build you a wind factory, we can build you a wind factory,” Manchin said. “We can build you a solar factory. Just keep our people working.”

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